Monday, October 22, 2012

Manipulative Language in Richard III

With "Richard III," Shakespeare gives us another play about deception and manipulation. Throughout the play, language is used to deceive others and to gain what one wants.
The largest examples of this of course come from Richard himself. Richard's plan is to become king, which is going to take some manipulation and work on his part, as right now his eldest brother holds that role. He decides that it would benefit him to court and marry Lady Anne, because it would make him an even better canidate for the throne in the event of his older brother's death. Lady Anne had been married to the kind of the previous king, but he was recently killed by Richard and his family. This obviously would make convincing her to marry him more challenging, but because of his skills in manipulative language, it seems that Richard actually finds joy in the challenge. Through his interaction with her, he uses his words to actually make her take some of the blame for her husbands death, saying that her beauty is what caused him to kill her husband in the first place. His speech is so effective that she actually takes his ring and agrees to speak with him later!
Another example of manipulative language comes from Richard's brother, Clarence. Unfortunately, his manipulation does not ultimately save his life, but it does make his murderers second guess themselves and hesitate for a while while he speaks. He pleads for his life in a way that evokes pity from the murderers, and earlier in the play, Richard actually warned them that this may happen as a result of Clarence's skill with language.
I enjoyed comparing these ideas with the ideas of deception in "Othello." Iago's genius in deceit came from his ability to appear so sincere, and make people over-think his subtle suggestions. However, the characters in Richard are using deception in a different way. Their skill comes from manipulation, using their language to actively make people believe something that they did not believe before in order to work to their own benefit. As I read on, it will be interesting to see what type of deceit within the two plays seems most effective.

1 comment:

Christine Richin said...

I’m glad you brought up the whole scene between Richard and Lady Anne. It’s funny because when I first read it, I completely ignored the manipulative aspects of Richard’s language because I was so focused on how bizarre the nature of what he was saying was. Like really, who does this guy think he is? Even thinking about it now throws me off a bit because you’re right, he does manage to use language to manipulate Anne into a direction that favors him. We have her shouting, “Out of my sight! Thou dost infect mine eyes” (p. 148), to confessing (after hearing Richard’s speech about her beauty), “All men I hope live so,” which is to say, she is now considering the possibility that Richard’s intentions and actions may actually be bold and in the name of his love for her. All it took was Richard excessively addressing her beauty as the cause for his actions for Anne to begin to reconstruct the mentality driven behind her harsh words.
I wonder to whom Shakespeare is making a statement against: The Elizabethan male who is overtly aware of how easy it is to manipulate a woman or the Elizabethan woman who is too na├»ve to recognize a good liar when faced with one. In other words, if these characters lived in our generation would Richard’s manipulations work? Would Anne take the ring he offers her in 1.2? Or would she need a more convincing story and be wary of Richard’s flowery words and love offerings?